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Anselmo – a vaquero

The Spirit of Tehachapi

In the early 1800s, the entire San Joaquin Valley of Central California was populated by the Native Americans of that region. The larger portion of the population were Yokut, but there were a significant number of alternate tribes in the area. The Gold Rush and the influx of settlers and miners were to inevitably displace the natural residents of the area. It was not to the Native Americans' advantage as there was bloodshed and broken treaties. The resistance continued for decades with atrocities recorded on both sides. Finally in 1856, General Edward Fitzgerald (Ned) Beale, a former respected Indian Agent and Brigadier General, arrived and with a military escort, met and discussed peace with the Native residents. (General Beale's Brigadier General rank was honorary, he was actually at one time a Navy man.) It soon involved the U.S. government sending mounted troops (Dragoons, occasionally called Hessians) to see that the Indians be located in designated reservations. This, to be accomplished with firm discipline, if necessary.

It was to this particular circumstance that Andres Campas, of Yaqui Indian heritage, and his wife, Amelia Ruiz, found themselves confronted. Andres' family had migrated from Sonora, Mexico some years before and settled in Bakersfield on Truxtun Avenue. They were told, however, that they would be sent to the Tule Reservation but Andres expressed a desire to go farther south to the Sebastian Reservation which would later be called the Tejon Reservation, sometimes referred to as the Tejon rancheria. The military men granted no favors and citing disobedience, set an example, by cutting off Andres' fingers. The family has passed down the information of the incident because of the violent action taken at that time. The time frame is not definable to any exact date but the deed was kept by each generation and handed down verbally. Not a good legacy, but also not forgettable.

Their son, Anselmo, was born on April 16, 1876 and a younger boy, Julio, in 1881. Later, in 1888, Andres and his family fled south to the Tejon rancheria which encompassed some 300,000 acres. General Edward Beale, who had purchased the fort, took an interest in the family, allowing Andres to work for him for many years. It was General Beale who established the fort as an Indian reservation as well as for the protection of the local settlers from bandits.

Ft. Tejon can tell its own story, not just from the building of it and the military operations, but from the influence it had on the mountain areas and Southern California as well as the people who lived in or near it. This, however, is the story of Anselmo Campas, who spent his life as a vaquero.

When Amelia and Andres moved to Tejon, their twelve-year-old son, Anselmo, would immediately begin a career as a cowboy, known in that area as a vaquero. Training as a ranch hand, horse breaker and horse trainer followed. The vaquero style of horse breaking was a gentle method and was later adopted by Roland Hill, a Tehachapi cattleman. They may have ridden their share of bucking horses, but a more gentle treatment was the new norm.

They dressed in the traditional garb that descended from the Spanish with the rowelled spurs, chaps and reatta as necessary equipment. The vaqueros took great pride in their horsemanship. These early "ranchos" ran vast numbers of cattle and horses on open range and the vaqueros earned their keep on horseback. Virtually growing up under the fair treatment of General Beale, and later his son Truxtun Beale, Anselmo, was known as a "gentle" man and the area's verbal historian. His vaquero days were to span fifty years but his skill as a teamster found him driving Truxtun Beale's out-of-town guests from Bakersfield to the rancheria in a four-horse coach. It was through his keen memory that the Ft. Tejon Restoration Committee was able glean information about the early days at the fort. Anselmo was one of the few who could remember the Tejon rancheria when the buildings were a "gleaming white in the sunlight." The County of Kern considered him an authority on its early day history.

Occasionally he would take work elsewhere and at such times worked for Bill Cuddy, son of the first settler of Cuddy Valley near Frazier Park. He hauled borax from Frazier Borax Mine into Bakersfield, an eight day round trip driving twelve mules with a "jerk line." He was known as the best "mule skinner" (a mule driver) around. After the El Tejon rancheria was sold by Truxtun Beale to Harry Chandler he still wrangled horses and worked with a friend, Don Jose Jesus Lopez, known as the Major Domo, whom he described as a "fine man."

After the borax mine closed down he went to work for the San Joaquin Power Company and helped with the first power line over the mountains from the intake on the Kern River to Los Angeles. Then his employment was extended to working on the old dairy farm, part of the Tejon Ranch near Lebec. The adobe dwelling that was his home was erected in 1886 and was the third building to be built on that site. The first was destroyed by an earthquake in the early days of old Ft. Tejon's existence in the 1850s and the second razed by fire a few years later.

The Tehachapi area beckoned and he found himself working for Gordon Brite, a descendant of the first settlers in the area and father of Perry Brite, Kern County Tax Collector at that time. Cummings Valley was the actual location of his employment on land that is now the site of the California Correction Facility and beyond. He drove the Brite children back and forth to school as well as doing his cowboy duties.

Besides his ranch work, the young vaquero had a talent for caregiving. There was a small infirmary at Ft. Tejon where he learned how to care for the sick. When a woman was in labor, someone would call out, "Get Anselmo!" This need to help those who are sick and ailing has passed down through his family. His own daughter, Mary, and granddaughter, Charlotte, became nurses as have many of his great grandchildren. One might say genetic memories stay alive and are passed down to those who follow the call to give care to the ailing.

Romance entered into his life and he met and married Maria Ocaña, member of a famous California Spanish family whose Central California acreage was allocated to them from a Spanish land grant. Maria's mother, Maria de la Luz Sais (Ocaña), was a member of the San Anselmo family located farther north in the state. Maria and Anselmo would have six children, all born in the Bear Valley and Cummings Valley area. Daughters Mary, Victoria, Emma and Lucille, plus their two boys Anselmo, Jr., and Tony went to school in Cummings Valley.

Anselmo's granddaughter, Charlotte, has some recollections of him that extend to the early years of his move into the city of Tehachapi to enjoy his retirement after fifty years of doing vaquero work. He and his wife, Maria, took a house across from his daughter, Mary, on F Street and just across the alley from another daughter, Vickie. When she was a small child Charlotte would come down the alley to visit him, he would see her and wait for her.

He kept two horses and a wagon in town and would allow the grandchildren rides to the city dump and back. The city refuse location then was north of town past the Westside Cemetery land. His love for the children made his home a good place to play.

Upon leaving the rancheria (Tejon Ranch) he gave his good cattle dog to his friend Mariano. The two men bragged that the dog, an Australian Shepherd named Pancho, could understand two languages. They said that the commands needed to herd cattle would be obeyed in either English or Spanish. Pancho, the bilingual dog, would immediately respond to either language.

During this period, Maria, Anselmo's wife, died in 1933. He then left Tehachapi and went to work at the Lebec area of the Tejon Ranch, on the old dairy farm there. His daughter Lucy went with him to keep house. His young granddaughters, Charlotte Leiva and Mary Louise (Dee Dee) Azveda/Rodriguez, were often visitors at the Lebec ranch and were given horseback rides either in front of him as he rode or by themselves as he carefully led the animal.

Back into retirement, he returned to Tehachapi and took an active part in the family life of his children. Charlotte and Dee Dee both recall that in their early teens their grandfather would escort them to the Saturday night dances in Tehachapi at the French Hotel on the corner of F and Green streets (Hitching Post Theater location). Dancing was fun but grandfather was their escort home until they became a little older.

He later kept just one horse in a stable across the railroad tracks near the old slaughter house which was located on the east end of H Street. The rancheria, was a place close to his heart and often in his thoughts. Sometimes he would ride his horse from town through Brite and Cummings valleys and travel down the horse trail in Cedar Canyon to his boyhood home. Having been raised Catholic, he was godfather to many children at Tejon Ranch and felt the need to see them. A long ride, but he took his time, visiting on the way.

In his later years, daughter Vickie Leiva took him to the Bay Area. His granddaughter, Charlotte and her husband, Chuck Villalobos, lived in the area at that time and they took him on the ferry from Oakland to San Francisco. Traveling across the Golden Gate Bridge and seeing the tall buildings astounded him. He stated that if he had known there would have been plenty of feed for cattle he might have moved there.

Still, in his old age he made the trips on horseback to visit his childhood home. One afternoon, Charlotte and Chuck, who had moved to Tehachapi, found him riding his horse down Curry Street towards town with the snow coming down hard. He was bundled up and his hat was down over his eyes. They stopped and asked him where he had been and he said, "Oh, I went home to the ranch for a few days."

The Bakersfield Californian often contacted him when they needed information on those past years, for his keen memory never left him. He spent his final years living in a house on F Street by his daughter Mary Campas Rodriguez. Anselmo died on July 29, 1956 at the age of eighty. His tombstone includes the phrase: "A great man."

When it comes to family, the story always continues. One hundred years later, on April 15, 1976, Anselmo Campas' great-great-grandson, Jeremy Dunn, was born in Tehachapi, just one day, and one century, separated from the birthdate of his famous ancestor's birth on April 16, 1876. Jeremy's life also has included many of the aforementioned genetic memories of the well-known vaquero, whose life contained much history of earlier California days. Jeremy, with his wife, Brandi, operate a 160 acre ranch on the south base of the Tehachapi Mountains (J.B. Cattle Co.) is bordered on three sides by the historic Tejon Ranch. Their two children, Sage and Steele, are part of another generation that utilizes the "gentle" method of horse training.

Having inherited a passion for anything that has to do with horses and cattle, Jeremy employs the same easy style when it comes to training horses that the early vaqueros used. Jeremy Dunn states: "Being able to read what a horse needs just when they need it helps to make a soft and responsive partner. Sometimes when I ride onto Tejon land I think of my great- great-grandfather, Anselmo, and say, he probably rode here once, also."